Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi

Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
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Updated 09 October 2020

Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi

Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
  • Old site outside Cairo reveals new treasures: 59 sarcophagi containing mummies unveiled
  • Saqqara is famous for its 5,000-year-old Step pyramid of Djoser and ancient necropolis

SAQQARA, Egypt: Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo.

The mummified remains date back almost 2,500 years, with many more expected to be found in the coming months.

Saqqara, 32 kilometers south of the capital, is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s. Part of the necropolis of Egypt’s ancient city of Memphis, it is famous for its 5,000-year-old Step pyramid of Djoser, which has recently undergone a $10 million restoration.

Although there is still much work to be done to identify who was buried there, experts believe the mummies were priests and officials who once sanctified the vast cemetery.




Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)

The discovery of so many sealed sarcophagi — several retaining their original ornate colors despite the long passage of time — is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in decades.

“This discovery will go all over the world because it is the most important discovery that has happened in Egypt in 2020,” Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptologist and former Egyptian minister for antiquities affairs, told Arab News on Saturday.

“That moment, I cannot explain to you, it is passion when you discover a mummy for the first time that was sealed for thousands of years. I always say that you never know what the sand of Egypt may hide.”

The site had already yielded some remarkable finds, including limestone and wooden coffins, a huge cat cemetery and a rare collection of mummified scarab beetles. A bronze statue of the god Nefertam and a wooden obelisk decorated with hieroglyphs were also recently uncovered.

“We thought there were only animal mummies, like cats, crocodiles, snakes and lions,” Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, told Arab News.

His team of archaeologists were stunned when they uncovered the first of the closed coffins from an 11-meter-deep burial shaft.

“I found a big mountain of debris and, in my heart, I felt something and said ‘this is the place that they should start digging,’” Waziri said, recalling his first impressions of the site when he arrived in 2018.

As the team sifted through hundreds of cubic meters of earth, his gut feeling soon proved correct.

“We found the most famous necropolis of the sacred animals, including mummified crocodiles, snakes, scarabs, lion cubs, mongoose and falcons. It was amazing to find hundreds of those mummified animals and birds,” he said.

It was here in 2018 that archaeologists discovered the Tomb of Wahtye from the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, which dated back almost 4,400 years.

Wahtye was a high-ranking priest and official who served under King Neferirkare Kakai. His tomb was found to contain breathtaking color reliefs of Wahtye, his wife Weret Ptah, and his mother, Merit Meen.

“We found tombs and shafts everywhere in this area, some dating back to the Late Kingdom and some to the Late Period,” Waziri said.

Then, on Aug. 1 this year, after a mountain of debris almost nine meters high was removed, the archaeologists had a “lovely surprise.”

FASTFACT

Egyptian Tourism

* Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry brought in a record $13.03 billion in 2019.

Waziri said the team found the first shaft almost 12 meters underground containing well-sealed colored coffins, all dating back to the Late Period during the 26th Dynasty, about 2,500 years ago.

Over the centuries, looters and grave-robbers searching for valuables have damaged many burial sites across Egypt, making sealed sarcophagi such as these incredibly rare and valuable to science.

Waziri is especially proud that the latest excavation was led entirely by Egyptians, who were forced to contend with delays and restrictions resulting from the coronavirus lockdowns.




Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)

“We are happy that this discovery was made by Egyptian hands and an Egyptian team. They wouldn’t stop, for they love their work,” he said.

Taking to Twitter, Stéphane Romatet, the French ambassador to Egypt, hailed the “extraordinary” discovery of the pristine artefacts. “Long live Egyptology,” he said.

The 59 sarcophagi and their mummified occupants will eventually go on display at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, according to Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister for tourism and antiquities.

The museum had been scheduled to open this year, but had to be pushed back as a result of the pandemic. The global pandemic has dealt a shattering blow to Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry, which brought in a record $13.03 billion in 2019.

“The museum, which will open in 2021, cost $1 billion and will be one of the largest museums in the world dedicated to one civilization,” El-Enany said.

“The site is exceptional, because it is overlooking the Great Pyramid of Giza. It has wonderful architecture, and the whole collection of the Tutankhamun camels will be displayed for the first time with more than 5,000 objects.”

The coming months will see a flurry of activity, with the reopening of the Museum of Royal Chariots in Cairo following years of refurbishment. Museums will also soon open in Sharm El-Sheikh and Kafr El-Sheikh.

One eagerly awaited spectacle is a planned pharaonic procession of 22 royal mummies, which will set off from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and make its way to their new home at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat.

The Saqqara discovery is only the latest in a series of significant archaeological finds that Egypt has sought to publicize.

“We haven’t had that chance to announce a discovery since March because of the COVID-19 restrictions, but we have battled such conditions and have worked harder since August to dig and uncover more secrets of this great civilization,” El-Anany said on Saturday.

Officials will be counting on renewed interest in Egypt’s antiquities to help boost the tourism sector, which is still recovering from the turmoil that followed the events of 2011.

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Twitter: @NoorNugali


Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
A military vehicle is stationed on the tarmac of Yemen’s Aden airport. Yemen says the Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace to the country. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2021

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation

Yemen’s government vows to mitigate effects of Houthi terrorism designation
  • International community urged not to surrender to ‘blackmailing and intimidation’ 
  • Stockholm Agreement has failed to bring peace, Yemen PM said

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister has vowed to address any impact on humanitarian assistance or the remittances of citizens abroad following the US move to designate the Iran-backed Houthis as a terrorist organization.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed also urged the international community not to surrender to “Houthi blackmailing” and intimidation.
Saeed defended his government’s strong support of the designation during a virtual interview with foreign journalists sponsored by the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.
He said that his government had formed a committee to handle any effects on the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Houthi-controlled areas and the remittances of Yemenis abroad.
“We are determined to prevent any impact of the decision on the Yemenis. We have formed a committee to mitigate effects of the decision,” he said.
When the US announced its intention to designate the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization last week, Yemen’s government quickly urged the US administration to put the decision in place, predicting it would stop Houthi crimes and their looting of humanitarian assistance, and would smoothe the way for peace.
Referring to the impact of the US designation on peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, Saeed said that the decision would not undermine peace efforts. He said that the Houthis would be accepted as part of the Yemeni political and social spectrum when they abandoned hard-line ideologies and embraced equality and justice.

The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed.

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, Yemen’s prime minister

“This is an important pressure card on them and a real definition of them,” he said, adding that the Yemenis would not allow the Houthi movement to rule them.
“Yemen would not be ruled by a racist and terrorist group,” he said.
Formed under the Riyadh Agreement, Yemen’s new government’s ministers narrowly escaped death on Dec. 30 when three precision-guided missiles ripped through Aden airport shortly after their plane touched down.
The government accused the Houthis of staging the attack, saying that missile fragments collected from the airport showed that they were similar to missiles that targeted Marib city in the past.
The prime minister said that the Yemeni government had offered many concessions to reach an agreement to end the war. It had agreed to engage in direct talks with the Houthis in Stockholm in 2018 despite the fact that the Yemeni government forces were about to seize control of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah. However, the Stockholm Agreement had failed to bring peace to Yemen, he said.
“The government forces were about to capture the city within five days maximum. The Yemeni government agreed to go to Stockholm for reaching a solution to stop fighting and saving the city. This model has failed,” Saeed said.
In Riyadh, Yemen’s president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Friday appointed Ahmed Obeid bin Daghar, a former prime minister and a senior adviser to the president, as president of the Shoura Council.
Hadi also appointed Ahmed Ahmed Al-Mousai as the country’s new attorney general.
Fighting continues
Heavy fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis broke out on Sunday for the third consecutive day in contested areas in the districts of Hays and Durihimi in the western province of Hodeidah. Official media said that dozens of Houthi rebels and several government troops were killed in the fighting and loyalists pushed back three assaults by Houthis in Durihimi district.
In neighboring Hays, the Joint Forces media said on Sunday that the Houthis hit government forces with heavy weapons before launching a ground attack in an attempt to seize control of new areas in the district.
The Houthis failed to make any gains and lost dozens of fighters along with several military vehicles that were burnt in the fighting, the same media outlets said. Heavy artillery shelling and land mines planted by the Houthis have killed more than 500 civilians since late 2018, local rights groups said.